Here for Good for 100 Years

Legacy began with opening of Scripps La Jolla

Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla celebrates 100 years - SD Health Branded

Legacy began with opening of Scripps La Jolla

“The most important and beautiful gift one human being can give to another is, in some way, to make life a little better to live,” declared philanthropist and journalist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924. 

Miss Ellen, as she was affectionately known, embodied this philosophy, donating millions to charitable causes during her lifetime. And perhaps nowhere is her commitment to improving the lives of others more apparent than in her founding of Scripps Memorial Hospital and Scripps Metabolic Clinic in La Jolla (now Scripps Clinic) 100 years ago. 

The changes since have been monumental. What began as just one hospital and one clinic has grown into a prominent San Diego health care system that consistently ranks among the best health care providers in the nation

Scripps treats more than 600,000 patients annually at its five acute-care hospital campuses, 30 outpatient centers and clinics and hundreds of affiliated physician offices. Scripps is also one of the largest employers in San Diego, with 3,000 affiliated physicians and more than 17,000 employees, and is recognized as one of the country’s best companies to work for


When Mercy Hospital joined Scripps in 1995, the health care leader found a perfect match not just in its mission, but also in its origins. Like Scripps, Mercy Hospital was founded by another exceptional woman dedicated to helping others, Mother Mary Michael Cummings

“San Diego would not be what it is today without the vision of two strong, intelligent and determined women — Ellen Browning Scripps and Mother Mary Michael Cummings,” says Chris Van Gorder, Scripps president and CEO. “Their commitment to provide for the health care needs of a growing community has resulted in the Scripps Health of today.” 

As Scripps celebrates its first 100 years of service and looks ahead to its next 100, it remains as committed as ever to honoring the legacy of these women, the thousands of employees who’ve shaped the institution and the millions of San Diegans whose lives have been made better by Scripps. 

Ms. Ellen’s legacy

Ellen Browning Scripps was recovering from a broken hip when she got the idea for her biggest charitable project to date: She would create a new, philanthropy-based hospital in La Jolla, one that would serve both the rich and the poor, providing the best care available. In September of 1924, her idea became a reality when Scripps Memorial Hospital opened its doors on Prospect Street. 

At the time, La Jolla was home to just 2,000 people, and that first hospital consisted of 57 beds with a nursery and children’s ward — a far cry from what San Diegans might picture when they hear the word “Scripps” today. Still, the hospital was nothing short of grand for its time. The facility immediately set a new standard for care in the community. 

Miss Ellen made it abundantly clear Scripps was something different, something special, when she opened Scripps Metabolic Clinic in December of that same year. The research facility, which was partly inspired by the discovery of insulin, was created to assist in the treatment of metabolic diseases, including diabetes, anemia and nephritis. It also established Scripps from the start as an institution leading the way in health care advancement. 

Decades of growth

Since opening, Scripps has never stopped leading. 

In 1950, Scripps hired Anita Figueredo, MD, the first female surgeon in San Diego. In 1978, it acquired the home of one of the first full-fledged emergency departments in San Diego, San Dieguito Hospital, which became Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas

In 1986, it added Scripps Memorial Hospital Chula Vista, which combined operating licenses with Scripps Mercy Hospital in 2004 to become Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista. In 2022, it became the only health system in the region with two Level I trauma centers. Scripps is brimming with firsts in San Diego.

Throughout its history, Scripps has continued to expand its care. Scripps is a national leader in disease diagnosis and treatment, and injury prevention, and a longstanding member of the Association of American Medical Colleges with three highly regarded graduate medical education programs

The health system has added hospital and outpatient locations throughout the county, and opened centers focusing on cardiovascular and cancer treatment, as well as orthopedic research, among other specialty services, all in an effort to improve the lives of more San Diegans. 

Strong community support

Of course, none of Scripps’ work would be possible without support from the community. 

“Philanthropy has been at the heart of Scripps since its founding 100 years ago,” says John B. Engle, Scripps’ corporate senior vice president and chief development officer. “As a nonprofit health care system, we’ve made tremendous advances through the years in our facilities, technology and tools to advance medicine, thanks to our generous donors.” 

As grateful as Scripps is for the community’s support, Scripps Health Board Chairman Kevin Hamilton says the feeling is mutual. 

“Our board of trustees is made up of volunteers from the community — all with different areas of expertise — but with one common goal: to help Scripps provide the best possible health care to our community. We take that responsibility seriously,” Hamilton says. “As the longest-established health care system in San Diego, we are here to help Scripps care for our community now and for generations to come.” 

The mission continues

As Scripps looks ahead to its next century of service, it would seem that the lessons of the first 100 years provide an excellent model. 

In fact, Van Gorder often finds himself thinking back to Scripps’ founding — to those two visionary women who dreamed of better serving San Diego with nonprofit health care. 

“At the end of the day, I always ask myself, ‘Would Miss Ellen and Mother Mary Michael be proud of the work we did today?’” he says. 

Judging by the number of lives Scripps has touched — has made, as Miss Ellen would say, “a little bit better”— that answer is a resounding yes.  

San Diego Health Magazine cover, spring 2024

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.

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